I got the Polaroid Automatic Land Camera 350 at a thrift store quite a while ago, and just recently got it working and tested it out.
I spotted the Polaroid in a showcase at an ARC thrift store on Alameda Avenue in West Denver at the same time Kate found the Kodak Tourist II in the same shop. It was a two-camera day, that. Don’t have too many of those.
The salvageable shots from my first two packs of Fujifilm FP-100C color film are peppered throughout this post; more on why there aren’t 20 of them below.
Before I could even try to take a photo with the 350, I had to do a little retrofitting. Unlike mechanical camera repair, which I’m still a novice at, this required electrical work, which I’m pretty good at.
To start with, I followed these battery reconfiguration instructions I found on Instructables.com. I used a 2-AAA battery holder for the shutter and light meter because the 350 is only a 3-volt system. I simply disconnected the power to the timer on the camera back, since I can easily use the timer on my iPhone instead.
I removed the original battery holder assembly, nipped out a little plastic that was in my way, soldered in the new battery holder, and repurposed the original battery holder screws to hold the new one in at a slight angle so the latch for the battery door was free to move.
With the batteries retrofitted successfully, I thoroughly cleaned the rollers and the areas around them, all of which was heavily encrusted with reddish developer goo. Aside from the goo, though, I never would’ve known this camera had been used.
After verifying the shutter worked without film, I opened my first film pack and loaded the camera.
That’s when I ran into trouble. I couldn’t remove even the dark slide on the film pack. It was so stuck I just tore the tab off trying to pull it out.
I opened the camera back and worked it out gently a little further in near total darkness. I closed the back and tried again.
Google to the rescue.
Several discussion threads on Flickr and Photo.net indicated that the spring inside the film door, designed to hold sturdy metal Polaroid film cartridges securely against the film plane inside the camera, were likely crushing the more delicate Fuji film pack and causing the tightness woes.
Too bad I didn’t figure that out until half the pack was destroyed. Helpful hint: once you’ve pulled out 5 or 6 sheets, the film pack is empty enough that it works just fine.
I pulled the camera open and wrapped the film pack in a dark bag, said to hell with it, and broke off the ends of the brittle spring per the most common solutions I found online.
In the course of finishing that film pack, reloading, and finishing the second film pack, I managed to ruin a couple shots due to ineptitude, inexperience and inattention. Those that made it are presented here.
The camera itself is big. It’s heavy. It weighs almost as much as my 4×5 Speed Graphic. It’s comfortable to hold, though, with a meaty grip molded into the left side that you can use to heft its weight while your right hand worries about adjusting and making each exposure.
The meaty grip is also handy to keep a firm grasp on the camera as you pull the film out (firmly and steadily, not too fast, but not too slow).
The camera opens up and the lens and bellows are extended after unlocking by lifting up the focusing knob by your right hand. They lock in place when they’re extended fully. On each side there’s a focusing knob attached to a bar across the back of the bellows. By sliding them together to the left or right, focus is achieved.
On the Model 350, the rangefinder is fully coupled and made by Zeiss. Lower models (x00, x20, x40 numbers) have different rangefinder systems that sound a little more difficult to use.
The yellowish “bright spot” in my 350’s rangefinder is a little dimmer than I’m used to on my Olympus 35SP and my Konica Auto S2, but it’s visible enough. It may also be slightly out of alignment — I can get vertical lines to line up crisply, but horizontal lines don’t ever seem to line up quite right. Very close, but not perfect. It makes focusing accurately a little more challenging, but it’s not impossible.
Exposure is a little more difficult. The camera is designed for film with speed of ASA75, ASA150 or ASA3000. The only currently available pack films from Fujifilm are ASA100, so you’re stuck with either under- or over-exposure. You’ll have to experiment to find the sweet spot on the L/D knob (lighten/darken) to get your exposures working. I’m still learning my 350’s sweet spot.
One of the most interesting things about this camera is the interest other people show. I walk around with a variety of unique and antique cameras on a regular basis, but combining a big bellows with an even bigger camera means this one gets a lot of attention. A gas station attendant even offered me $50 for it (I told him I’d sell it to him with the film in it for $200 and he was still hemming and hawing when I left).
Just be ready for lots of comments if you walk around with one of these.
Technical details: I used instant film and it did its thing. I scanned them with my Epson V600 and Photoshopped out the most offensive dust, and that’s it.